But how is a lone person supposed to do this in any reasonable time-frame? The quest will (sometimes) tell you what zone to go to... but that's it. A zone is large, and oftentimes full of aggressive mobs that you (back then) couldn't hope to fight solo.
It's incredibly difficult for me to see why you put the words FFXI and solo in the same sentence unless you're lavishing praise on Lord Avesta. Literally everything you're shown, nearly every step of your journey tells you that you won't get far in this game if you're planning on going it alone.
I have no idea who Lord Avesta is, but to be honest, a successful MMO needs both solo and group content.
Gating EVERYTHING behind groups is a horrible, and terrible idea because you just end up with bottlenecks like you did in oldschool XI where you have lots of people needing crap that nobody has any sort of incentive to help out with, like the genkai quests. Mandatory grouped content sucks, unless there's matchmaking like XIV has. And sometimes it still sucks, if you end up waiting for 45+ min queue to get a required dungeon done.
Leveling beyond 15, subjob items, traveling to J-town, farming your keys for the Khazam airship, unlocking advanced jobs, more leveling, Rank 3.. all the way down the chain.
Nowadays, this can be done solo and very easily and the game is better off for it. No longer do you gotta wait around for people to help you out of the goodness of their hearts (they usually didn't....), no longer do you have these immense massive roadblocks in front of you.
It can be done solo now, and it's far better than it used to be.
I get that you have limited time and you want to get on, get something done and get out. As someone with less hours a week to game than I have fingers, I can relate. Had I not had the time to invest back then, I probably wouldn't have made it out of the gates. I knew well before I left to explore the wilds on my own that I was going to need help. We, were going to need to help each other.
That's all great when you join a fresh new MMO, but after the MMO has aged and you join it not knowing anybody when you go in? It sucks. Everybody else is established and nobody has time for you, the newbie who has nothing to offer in return.
Misty-eyed about the community? Perhaps. I think it's more to do with the fact that I made my community. I made my own groups most of the time. I initiated my mostly static for ZM out of groups I had been in leveling up. Many of those players went on to join us in Dynamis and/or Sky. Subsequently the CoP static and Sea farms. I also co-ran a HNM shell. Thanks to a chill job at the time I was able to fish for an hour or two so I broke into 90+ skill prior to the changes.
You got lucky. I've tried making my own groups, didn't work out. I had a variable hour job, where week-to-week was different (it's better now, but it was worse back then). I didn't know what days or nights I would have off until 2 weeks prior. Sometimes I would have a Wednesday Night off, other times it would be Thursday Night instead. Trying to make or join any type of HNM/Dynamis/Whatever shell was absolutely impossible for me.
I got a ******** of things done. I don't want a cookie. I'm not patting myself on the back here. I honestly think that I did it more out of necessity than anything else. I just realized early that it was going to take a lot of effort on my part and a lot of help from other people to stay active in so many different areas of the game.
Forgive me if it comes off as smug, but I feel it's a pretty good explanation for why the solo comments don't hold up for me.
I wouldn't say it comes off as "smug", it's just merely again... you need to realize you had a LOT of good fortune come your way, a lot of good fortune that many other players didn't have. You admit you had a more easy-going job, you had consistent hours, a consistent schedule and you were able to meet people and make friends and get one or more linkshells together. You were able to do this.
Myself, and other players, were not.
It is just as difficult for me to understand what it was like to be someone like you, just as much as it is difficult for you to understand what it is like to be in the shoes of a person like me.
But all of that is irrelevant now -- solo to 99 is 100% possible, or at least that's my theory. I can only see two minor roadblocks to soloing to 99 -- Genkai #2 and I think #3? The one that asks you to go to the 3 beastmen homes for their crests, and that one where you have to kill the 3 mobs in Xarcabard. I think the beastman homes are do-able, they just need extreme caution and/or suicide runs. The mobs in Xarcabard? Depends on whether or not you picked a good DD job. I've never tried to 5-man them at the level they were meant to be done at, but from testimonials that I've read, it sounds like it should be possible.
Otherwise, solo to 99 is entirely possible and relatively easy if you know what you're doing. There's a lot of learning, and making mistakes will get you killed, but again, you're still learning how to play. Though, sadly, skillchains, magic bursts, and general behavior in parties is not something you're going to learn... but I suppose that's a small price to pay for actually being able to get things done in a realistic time-frame. And besides, the easier Ambuscades sound like a decent place to get to know group mechanics.
That's assuming people still do the easier Ambuscades.... I dunno, I've never stepped foot in one myself, I've had so much to do and I read that they reset every month, so I was waiting until this month's reset before I give it a bash.